Verita Stewart

Writer, blogger, social media | Racer of bikes with Specialized Women's Racing Team|

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You can imagine my horror to find that my name was not on the B grade start list for the Eildon Junior and Women’s Tour. I sat at my desk, dazed for a second. Maybe I forgot to enter…How embarrassing!  The horror lasted for a second until my eye darted up to the A grade start list. I nearly fell off my chair. There was my name. I was bumped. I calmly closed the browser and went back to what I was supposed to be doing, work. That was on Tuesday.

It was now Friday. I am a stress head at the best of times, I had been good, was not stressing. I had successfully blocked out the A grade thing, by occupying myself with my new power meter, until now. The 2hr drive with a friend to Eildon allowed for some significant workshopping. The three stage tour with a 12km Individual Time Trial, a 50km ‘flat’ Road Race and a 70km ‘hilly’ Road Race. The weather was not looking good as promised, with rain predicted both days. The more we discussed, the more nervous I became, but I was really looking forward to pushing myself and “racing, not riding”.

I was allowed to be nervous, this was my first A grade race, and I was amongst a field of strong riders, such as Sam De Riter (St Kilda – Holden Specialized)), Georgina Beech (St Kilda), Carley McKay (Carnegie Caufield CC – Kelly Coaching), Grace Phang (St Kilda), Shannon Malseed (Portland CC – Holden Specialized) and Tessa Fabry (Brunswick CC) who also was bumped up to A grade.

I set myself three goals: 1. Leave it all on the road for the ITT, 2. Hang on with the bunch and 3. Focus, something of which I lack at times.

Stage 1 – Individual Time Trial (Strava)

After a pretty pathetic warm up, I say pathetic because I fluffed around for way too long, I rolled down to the start line. The out-and-back course was a 12km, and flat.  I was strangely excited. It was just me, contre la montre. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a TT’er, but I love the chase, I love numbers. I set myself a goal, and put my head down. Fast forward 18 and a half minutes and it was over. 8th. Definitely room for improvement, but a PB all the same and I’m stoaked with that. Average speed was 36.7km/hr, average watts was 208, and a frightening average heart rate 199 over the 12km distance.

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I could barely get off the bike. I definitely left everything on the road. It was now time to refocus on the road race that was to come.

Stage 2 – Road Race (Strava)

We sat on the start line forever. The longer we sat, the longer I had to dwell on the race. To tell you the truth, I was packing it. My first A grade race was about to begin. What was going to happen? How was it going to play out? All I knew was I had to stay focused and stay on. Two laps of a 25km course, with a dam wall finish, a great view to look forward to.

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As soon as neutral zone was over, it was on…the attacks began. It was attack, after attack, after attack! An attack, a chase, attack, chase, attack, chase. I was out of my depth. My heart rate was was at 185 bpm!  I was too busy hanging on to think about anything, except for staying on. And I did, well until the final pinch up to the dam wall. Then I got dropped, there was no way I could hold on. This race was nothing like I have ever experienced in B grade, it is a whole new dynamic. Something I’ll have to learn quickly. I was switched on for the entire race, I had to be or I’d be left behind in a flash!  I came over the line 11th of 12. But I did not care. I stayed on (mostly), and I stayed focused. I was probably too focused, I did not eat or drink nearly enough, but that I’ll work on next time.

Race over, it was recovery time. What a day! We went back to our accommodation and sat in front of the fire, listening to the rain on the roof and somewhat dreading the next day’s racing. The rain had held off until now.

Stage 3 – Road Race Skyline Road (Strava)

I took about an hour to set up the trainer in the morning. I was not enthused. The weather was not the best, rainy and windy. I had a terrible sleep, thanks to the possum eating insulation in the ceiling above my bunk bed. I was stressing again, was this race going to pan out like yesterday’s road race…Attacks every 5 minutes? I crossed my fingers that it would not. I was tired. I was making excuses and I was not focused as I should have been.

I found myself procrastinating over what to wear. Long sleeve, arm warmers, leg warmers, cap, no cap, glasses, no glasses? I ended up wearing arms and knee warmers, this decision wasted too much time. I needed to get pumped. I gave myself a swift kick in teeth as the super coach would have and got on the trainer. All of a sudden we were on the start line, then rolling. It was still raining.

Thankfully we rode in an orderly manner for the first ‘flatter’ loop, I’m not sure how I would have coped if it was attack after attack like yesterday’s road race. I’m pretty sure my legs would have fallen off. As we completed the first loop I could sense what was about to happen, gels were being consumed left right and centre, water bottles were being tipped out, it was about to get ‘serious’. As we turned onto Skyline Road and the base of the climb, the speed ramped up. I needed to focus.

We drove the climb the day before, so I kind of knew what I was in for. Skyline Road (Strava segment) is a spectacular 6.6km climb that overlooks Lake Eildon. At an average of 5% it is no 1:20, especially when you factor in some pinchy 9% sections and at race pace, you’ve got something that will max your heart rate out quite quickly. That’s what happened to me anyway. Before I knew it, everyone was gone and I was riding solo up the climb. I could see someone in the distance, and tried to chase them, but couldn’t. I knew this climb would split the bunch. And it had. I was off the back. 

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Photo Credit: Bridget Slocum

I’m usually quite confident when descending. This time the road was wet and mossy, I descended like a scary cat and lost a too much time on the person in front of me. I rode solo, into the wind for the remainder of the race. I started to count road kill to keep my mind occupied and concentrated on my pedal stroke between 5-7pm. At about 10km to go I was caught by the last rider in A grade, then a few minutes later, Women’s B grade overtook us both. By this stage I was broken. I was down to what felt like about 25km/hr and had nothing left. I was glad when the race was over. I was almost seeing stars. Despite the stars, I enjoyed the race. I just wish I gave it more on the climb and could have managed myself a little better. A work in progress.

And that was that…

My first A grade races were out of this world. I had a great time over the weekend, racing with an awesome bunch of women and pushing myself to the limit.

In terms of my three goals for the weekend: 1. I rode a PB in the ITT, 2. I hung on in Stage 2, though a little disappointed with Stage 3’s climbing effort and 3. Stayed focused for 80% of the time. Pretty happy with that.

Congratulations to Grace, Tessa and Shannon who got 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively and all the other ladies, 1 – 12.

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Photo Credit: Bridget Slocum

Whats next?

I’ll be racing the Clubs Team Time Trial at the end of July. See you there with team HCC Pocket Rockets.

Until next time: Get on your bike and ride it, with people who are more experienced than you and smile and soak it up.

**You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter: @lowecasev and Strava: Verita Stewart.**

 Photos courtesy of JXP Photography, click here to view the galleries.

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Don’t forget to smile for Jarrod’s camera!

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Thanks to chauffer DSC PL for keeping me on my toes and Rae, B, Carolyn and Super Swanny Minda for the great company over the weekend, Minda especially for the oil ups, rub downs, tent shelter and mechanical knowhow – you’re just awesome and Total Rush for keeping me and Napoleon (my bike) in order.

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Author: Verita Stewart

Cyclist for Specialized, Instagramer, blogger, desk sitter, coffee lover, recycler

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